The butcher’s block in the window of East Coast Cured on Restalrig Road is not just a gimmick. Two whole pigs arrive here each week (mainly from Puddledub) and, after an appointment with owner Steven Anderson for butchery and curing, leave in the form of Scotland’s finest charcuterie.
This is a family business in the truest sense of the phrase. When I arrive at the shop, Susie is holding the fort behind the counter at street level, Steven – Susie’s husband – is working downstairs in the basement kitchen and curing cellar, and their two young daughters are perched sweetly on a step keeping themselves entertained. The business, Steven explains, is, in part, an opportunity for the girls, should they want it.
When his eldest appears excitedly in the kitchen asking what we’re up to, Steven explains: ‘I’m just having a conversation with Ruari – he wants to ask me questions about charcuterie […] about the business that you’re going to work in.’ He’s not naive, though, and concedes that they may well eschew the offer of familial artisanship – ‘they’ll probably be like: “screw you dad, I’m not going to make sausages for a living,” but at least there’s an option there for them.’
Being a relatively new dad myself – and harbouring ambitions to work with food one day – I ask Steven how he balances a successful fledgling business and a young family. ‘It is tricky,’ he admits – ‘I have definitely aged a lot in the last few years’ he adds with a wry laugh. Steven continued to work two jobs for the first six months that the business was running – eventually taking the leap of faith, and going full time with East Coast Cured. He and Susie had just had their second child, and decided that they may as well ‘take it at 100 miles an hour while they were already sleep deprived’ – so that they might have a chance to relax a bit when the girls were older and the parenting gig calmed down a bit. ‘The more you do, the more you can do,’ he tells me – and I imagine for a second that I might be able to start a business at this stage of life, before I come to my senses – realising that Susie and Steven are actually super-human.
The kitchen and curing cellar sit below the shop in an old office space, which Steven has converted into a cured meat production unit. As he shows me round the space – moving from kitchen, to curing cellar, to storage – we talk about the process and the produce. Steven is part chef, part resourceful engineer, and part mad scientist.
As we enter the cellar, the smell is strong, and funky – the heady scent of fermented and curing meat melds with spices and herbs in an outright assault on the senses. At one point Steven leaves me alone whilst he attends to the kids, and I do everything in my power not to take a bite out of one of the gorgeous fresh salamis hanging in the curing cellar, just starting to bloom with white mould (the good sort)!
The philosophy at East Coast Cured is one borne of eating average charcuterie. Steven tells me: ‘because curing effectively concentrates the flavours present in the meat – like reducing a stock – you can take something that is not very good, and make it taste alright. But, just alright. So, my thinking was, “what if you start off with something really good, and just use traditional techniques?” You should end up with something that is amazing.’ The meat is all locally sourced, and Steven handles it with the utmost care.
The curing cellar is a magical place. It is a gallery, filled with works of art gently curing. Salamis hang on a DIY scaffold, while whole muscles dangle around the edges of the cellar, cured to make pancetta, lomo, lonza, coppa, prosciutto, and beef bresaola. My eye is drawn to a mahogany joint with a tempting layer of buttery yellow fat, which Steven tells me is mangalica – a specialist hairy pig breed (resembling a chunky sheep), and which produces the most fantastic deep rich meat – prized by chefs in the know. This particular animal came from Gorgie farm – a working farm in Edinburgh city centre, which I always assumed was a petting zoo (we got our Christmas trees from here when we lived in the city, and visited on school trips as kiddies).
This cut is the last remaining meat from a collaboration between East Coast Cured, the farm, and Fred Berkmiller (chef proprietor of Edinburg institution L’Escargot Blanc). This collaboration is exciting, and testament to Steven and Susie’s commitment to forging local connections. Indeed, you can find their charcuterie in many of the city’s top cafes and restaurants. Steven intimates that he has plenty more experiments and surprises up his sleeve. He’s got more collaborations coming soon, as well as highland beef and whisky salami, merguez sausage, and IPA brined cured ham – and those are just the projects he’s told me about.
I’m like a child in a sweetie shop, especially in the cellar, where I am desperate to take pictures of everything. Steven generously obliges but asks that I avoid sharing pictures of his kit. He is fiercely protective of his trade secrets, and rightly so. From the first bits of rudimentary kit he pieced together – a fridge from gumtree modified using components bought from eBay; to the more sophisticated custom set-up he currently uses – Steven has had to work things out himself. There are no off-the-shelf solutions for curing on this scale, and Steven’s knowledge and ingenuity are as much a part of the value of this company, as the carefully curated range of products.
He has spent years perfecting his craft – moving from a career in brewing with Stewarts, into cured meat production, via a lot of home experimentation (he tells a story of the time he accidentally allowed the eaves of his home attic to become overrun with white mould – the kind more commonly found on the walls of Italian caves). This may seem like an odd career transition, but Steven tells me that the skill-set of the brewer is very similar to that which is required for good curing – mainly being ‘completely anal about how clean and sterile things are’ (not to mention a solid knowledge of fermentation). Given this know-how, I ask if he has thought about acting as a consultant. ‘Yeah, totally. There are a lot of restaurants that want to get in on the action’ he tells me ‘I’d love to act as a consultant to help them do it properly.’
After the interview, Steven takes the kids home, and I hang back to chat to Susie and Sorina (host of the Southside Food Assembly, and charcuterie seller). The shop has a great atmosphere, and as we chat people pop in and out – picking up a bit of this or that, and having a blether. It brings to mind the local shops my parents talked about – the kind that don’t really exist in the same way now. I couldn’t visit the shop without buying something to take home. I leave with a good piece each of stout and chilli salami (Steven’s old employer, Stewarts’, Cauld Reekie forms the boozy base) and porcini and truffle salami – as well as some Smokin’ Slaw from the Edinburgh Fermentarium.
As I leave – taking a picture of the shopfront – a passer-by grins and remarks: ‘that place is amazing, eh!’ And I have to agree. The charcuterie turned out by Steven and Susie, really is exquisite – and the shop is a meat-lover’s haven.
If you can’t make it out to Restalrig Rd, or if the shop’s not open, you can pick up their products at legendary cheesemongers I.J. Mellis. The East Coast Cured team can also often be found at Scotland’s fantastic farmers’ markets. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for pics and updates.